BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, December 16, 1823

Happy Beethoven’s birthday!

For many years, Beethoven’s birthday was considered the same as the date on his baptismal record in Bonn, December 17th. However, there is some compelling evidence that his birthday was definitively on December 16.

1820 Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858)

In a letter to Beethoven dated December 15, 1796, his counterpoint teacher Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, writes: “My dear Beethoven! I wish you all the best on your Name day tomorrow, God give you health and happiness, and grant you good luck. Should you have an extra hour, dear Beethoven, then your old teacher invites you to spend it with him. It would give me great pleasure if you could bring the Trio [probably the Serenade op.8 or one of the string trios op.9] with you. Then we could try it out at once, and I will make the scores immediately, now that I have more time.” [Translation and note by Theodore Albrecht.]

Brandenburg Letter 24, Albrecht Letter 21. The Feast of St.Ludwig, which would be Beethoven’s name day was August 25th. So Albrechtsberger seems to have confused Beethoven’s name day with his birthday, but he certainly had a clear understanding that Beethoven celebrated December 16th. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Beethoven considered the 16th as his birth anniversary, one day before the baptismal record. As Beethoven’s friend from Bonn Franz Wegeler noted, the custom for baptism at that time was for the ceremony to be performed on the day of the birth, or the day afterwards. Wegeler-Ries, Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven (Coblenz 1838) pp.3-4.

Early in the morning, Nephew Karl stops by to let him know that his philosophy class has added a discussion session on Tuesdays from two to three, which will compel him to eat in the city.

After his classes, Karl comes by Beethoven’s apartment probably about 4 p.m., bringing a gift of chestnuts.

The maid asks for a testimonial so she can get another position as a servant. A new housekeeper/cook takes over on a temporary basis, until a permanent hire can be made. That process takes two weeks.

Karl reports that at the university today there was a debate by a student who received a doctoral degree. The debate was “in the presence of the Emperor,” but the student had to make do with a portrait of the Emperor. He received a ring, and his parents received a gold medal and 2,000 florins C.M.

Ignaz Moscheles comes to visit, pleased with his concert last night. Beethoven is not pleased that his Name Day Overture, op.115, was not well accepted and the performance was sloppy. Moscheles says that Johann Hildebrand, the second concertmaster at the Kärntnertor Theater, studied the score of the overture closely and took unending pains in rehearsal. The concertmaster of the Opera and Court Ballet, Joseph Katter, spoke in support of Beethoven at the rehearsal. Beethoven thinks that the concert might have damaged his reputation. Moscheles thinks this is nonsense, nothing could do harm to him. His works will now be performed much better elsewhere.

By popular demand, Moscheles is repeating the entire concert tomorrow, and the Overture will be played again. Hopefully it will be given in a more secure manner. He asks whether the tempo of the Allegro was all right. [This supports the conjecture yesterday that Beethoven’s hearing was better than usual last night, and he was able to hear at least some of the concert.]

Moscheles thanks Beethoven for the loan of the Broadwood piano. He hopes that piano maker William Leschen returned it undamaged.

If Beethoven has messages for England, he should get them ready since Moscheles intends to return there within the next two weeks, three weeks at the most. Beethoven offers Moscheles a gift, which he will consider as a relic. He will come back to see Beethoven again about the messages.

Before Moscheles can depart, Anton Schindler arrives. Moscheles invites Beethoven to come to the concert tomorrow; he can select a loge that pleases him. Beethoven agrees to come.

Nephew Karl interviews another possible cook candidate. She bought a little spring chicken for 36 kr. She is from Silesia. The cook previously served at two places, one of them for a medical doctor. She says she is already an artful cook. She apparently does well in her tryout, since she is hired on the spot, and Karl reimburses her for the cost of the chicken. He then leaves to head back to the University.

Beethoven frets that Karl lacking money will take him into temptation. Schindler says he shouldn’t worry about that, and being short of money won’t hurt him. Beethoven appears to complain about the horseplay he keeps learning about at the University. Schindler says the strictest educational institution is the Imperial Konvict. [That educational institution, unlike the Löwenburg Konvict, accepted good students who were of limited means and not members of the nobility. Franz Schubert studied at the Imperial Konvict.]

The new cook would like to make the young rabbit tomorrow, along with the leftover spring chicken.

Conversation Book 49, 9r-12v. That is the end of this very short conversation book of only 12 leaves. The next surviving book starts with December 20th. There might have been another short book covering the 17th through the 19th, but if so that book is now lost.

Today’s Wiener Theaterzeitung at 599 offers an overview of the recently-concluded subscription series of the Schuppanizgh Quartet, which is not wholly complimentary. The reviewer acknowledges Schuppanzigh’s popularity with Vienna’s music lovers, and his contributions to the Viennese musical world. Although a good string quartet is a very commonplace thing in Vienna amongst the amateurs nowadays, Schuppanzigh’s professional quartet still received a good deal of encouragement. The members of the quartet could not be improved upon; in particular Karl Holz, the second violin, plays with spirit, taste and insight, and Herr Linke on the violoncello is one of the virtuosos of the first class on that instrument.

The most interesting quartets and quintets by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Onslov were presented, as well as one by the violist, Herr Weiss, and one by Berlin Kapellmeister Henning. The quartet was particularly liked in Haydn’s compositions. Schuppanzigh decorated his art and enlivened the performance with humor and whimsy, and was even flirtatious with his violin, and in these naive compositions the humor is almost always the outstanding feature.

“But Mozart’s charm unfortunately suffers from such added colors, and Beethoven is such an individual that if one adds something foreign to his music, the results end up completely strange and disturbing.”

That review in the Theaterzeitung will be the subject of discussion between Beethoven and Schindler next month.

Although Franz Joseph Haydn does not very often appear in the music ads in the Wiener Zeitung, a new publication of 80 Minuets for pianoforte, including an anecdote about their origin, is offered today for sale by both the Th. Weigl firm and Cappi & Diabelli at 1170. This publication has a rather hefty price tag of 30 florins W.W.

Capitalizing on the popularity of Ignaz Moscheles’s recent concerts, the Artaria company offers his Variations on the Alexandermarsch for piano, op.32 (which he played in the December 15th concert), with a new introduction. This work is also released in arrangements for quartet or full orchestra.

The Variations on the Alexandersmarsch are played here by Ian Hobson, with the Sinfonia da Camera: